Local law-enforcement officers raided the office of a rural weekly newspaper in Kansas and the home of its publisher and his 98-year-old mother Friday, contributing to her death the next day, the Marion County Record reports, telling its own story.
“The raid is one of several recent cases of local authorities taking aggressive actions against news organizations — some of which are part of a dwindling cohort left in their area to hold governments to account,” write Steve Lee Myers and Benjamin Mullin of The New York Times. “Raids of news organizations are exceedingly rare in the United States, with its long history of legal protections for journalists.”
The Record, in a town of 1,900 in a county of 11,500, “is uncommonly aggressive for its size,” with a circulation of 4,000, Myers and Mullin report. Publisher Eric Meyer told the Times that the weekly “has stoked the ire of some local leaders for its vigorous reporting on Marion County officials,” including the employment history of Police Chief Gideon Cody.
The search warrant for the raid mentions restaurateur Kari Newell and cites “potential violations of laws involving identity theft and the illegal use of a computer,” the Times reports. After Newell ejected Meyer and reporter Phyllis Zorn from an event with the area’s congressman, the paper reported on it, prompting a tip to Zorn that Newell was trying to get her driver’s license reinstated from a 2008 DUI charge so she could get a liquor license pending before the state and the Marion City Council. Zorn confirmed the charge via a state website. “Newell said that someone had unlawfully used her identity to obtain private information about her online,” the Times reports.
“Meyer decided not to publish a story about the information, and he alerted police to the situation,” report Sherman Smith and Sam Bailey of the Kansas Reflector, quoting him: “We thought we were being set up.”
Police told Newell, “who then complained at a city council meeting that the newspaper had illegally obtained and disseminated sensitive documents, which isn’t true,” the Reflector reports. “Her public comments prompted the newspaper to set the record straight in a story published Thursday.” The raid came at 11 a.m. the next day.”
“Newell framed the dispute as a straightforward violation of her privacy by the newspaper rather than a First Amendment battle,” the Times reports, quoting her: “I firmly believe that this was a vindictive move, full of malice,” which she says was caused by her ejection of the Record from the meeting at her restaurant, John Hanna and Mergery Beck of The Associated Press report. In another story, they report widespread criticism of the raid.
Meyer is a former reporter for the old Milwaukee Journal and a retired professor at the University of Illinois, “whose father worked at the newspaper from 1948 until he retired.” Meyer bought the paper in 1998 to keep it from being sold to a larger chain, the Reflector reports. He told the Times that much is at stake: “If we don’t fight back, and we don’t win in fighting back, it’s going to silence everybody.”